The 1st Portuguese Expedition to Nigeria

Nigeria has had a long history of exploration by European explorers
Nigeria has had a long history of exploration by European explorers.  The country was discovered in the 1470’s by Portuguese adventurers.  Like most other things in life, they encountered the area mostly by accident.  They were seeking a more economical trade route to Asia when they landed on the sandy beaches of this exotic African land.  What they discovered was something truly remarkable, and whole volumes have been written about the exploration of these and other lands by established European countries like Portugal. These remarkable experiences, what led up to them, and the aftermath are all an appealing aside for any history buff.

Map of West Africa http://classroom.synonym.com/

For the greater part of the 1400’s the Portuguese and other European nations were faced with a fairly daunting task: their main goal was to find a suitable trade route with Asia. They wanted a path that would make more economic sense and would be more cost-effective.  Simply put, Nigeria and many other foreign lands were only discovered because of the established trading culture that had already existed for several centuries between Europe and Asia.  In their quest to find a better route, they encountered many other lands.

Photo taken by Alvesgaspar – Original work by Lázaro Luís (1563).

When the Portuguese first landed in Nigeria they immediately realized that they were in a land that was surprisingly similar to their own.  The land was highly industrialized, with systems in place for agriculture, art and other indigenous civilization in place.  The country was ruled by four major kingdoms: the Hausa and Borno kingdoms dominated the north and the Oyo and Benin dynasties were grounded in the South.

The Portuguese promptly established trade with the Nigerians, mostly with the Benin people.  They traded spices, spirits, and many other items, including people.  Before the Europeans set foot on the African continent, the slave trade was alive and prospering, and the Portuguese quickly became aware of this.  It’s believed that during their first contact they began trading slaves with Chiefs of Benin Kingdom.  It is estimated that as many as 3.5 Million Africans were traded to Europe and eventually America.

The Portuguese in their early trading relationship with the Kingdoms would trade by offering them cloth, copper and brass.  A few decades later they would eventually add cowrie shells to the trading economy as well.

Portuguese influence would eventually be spread far and wide in the coming decade.  Part of this was due to the Europeans desire to find African Gold for their valuable coinage back and their desire to find a trading route to Asia.  The fourth largest city in the world, Lagos is the Portuguese for “Lakes”.